Neil Findlay: In a nervous panic, the dogs of war were unleashed on Labour
Writing for The Red Robin, Scottish Labour MSP looks at the challenges ahead for the Labour Party following the General Election
On the morning of June the 9th 2017 as political pundits surveyed the new political landscape Theresa May limped her way back into Downing Street bruise battered and clinging to power, with no majority, little did she know what was to come.
However, no matter how much we spin it Labour lost again, but it is an undeniable fact that at that election under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership Labour increased its share of the vote by more than any of the party's election leaders since 1945.
Labour's proportion of the vote grew 9.6 per cent - the biggest swing since Clement Attlee shortly after the Second World War. This result sent shockwaves through the establishment. With May at the mercy of the DUP and the Brexiteers, the Government could have fallen at any time and the UK could end up being ruled by a man with a lifelong commitment to radical socialism.
In a state of nervous panic, the dogs of war were unleashed on Corbyn, McDonnell and anyone associated with them. Day in day out the media from the Sun and Daily Mail, to Sky, the BBC, social media commentators, TV personalities, pundits and shamefully a number of Labour MPs joined the feeding frenzy. Every issue big or small became weaponised and used to attack a man I know as decent, caring, peaceful and compassionate. A man who has been involved in the peace movement all his life was portrayed as a terrorist sympathiser, a consistent campaigner for minority rights, refugees and those affected by war and conflict Corbyn became in the eyes of his critics an anti-Semite and a racist – he is neither.
Such was the absurdity of these attacks even his bike was fair game. A Times journalist referred to it as a “Chairman Mao-style bicycle.” Like me, I’m sure you recall seeing footage of the former Chinese leader wheelying on his BMX through the Beijing military parade in his lycra budgie smugglers – “Mao-style bike” WTF?
Of course, these attacks were cheered on, endorsed and fed by the likes of Ian Austin, Chris Leslie, Ian Murray, Mike Gapes, Jess Phillips and too many others. These same critics and the People’s vote zealots were then astonished that these day in day out media attacks on their own side had a very real impact culminating in the disaster of the December 2019 result.
I am not naive, I know that the Labour leadership made mistakes; I know that Brexit was a huge issue we got wrong, I know there were issues around policy presentation and tactics - things could have and should have been done differently but when I look at the leadership election in front of us we must learn lessons from the last few years.
Whoever becomes the leader of our party cannot tolerate the outrageous behaviour we have witnessed in recent years from MPs, MSPs and others who don’t get their way. The party has to be a democratic organisation that respects, listens to and involves its members, it is not for the PLP or in Scotland the SPLP to dictate to members.
If your leadership candidate loses then that’s just tough, get over it and get on with the job you are elected to do. No one has the divine right to get his or her way. Debate, discussion and passion are central to our politics that is a good thing but destructive, toys out the pram daily tantrums we can do without.